Espiner on Cosgrove

Colin Espiner analyses what is happening with and the Real Estate Bill:

But Jones has been left in the shade by Cosgrove. We’re getting used to the minister’s “I’m gonna run dodgy real estate agents out of town” Bush-isms but things reached a new level this week when the MP for Waimakariri pulled the old “If I’m too tough then too bad” line out of the hat.

“National Party leader John Key has admitted that reform of the sector is needed but he opposes the () because he doesn’t like my tough guy approach,” said Cosgrove with a straight face. Shrugging off what was left of his self-effacement, Cosgrove went on: “If protecting consumers from getting ripped off and supporting honest real estate agents is being tough, then I am guilty as charged.”

Good grief. It’s Cosgrove versus Key at the OK Corral.

I have praised Cosgrove in the past for his tough line in an industry which needs reform, but his ego seems to now be taking over. There are times when you have to talk tough, and times when you need to work constructively and a good Minister knows when to deploy both.

Cosgrove made a couple of other quite extraordinary claims during the week, too. First, he said real estate agents had met top Fairfax executives in an attempt to heavy them into writing nicer things about the industry, and threatened to pull advertising if they didn’t agree.

Then he said National had stitched up a secret deal with the institute to overturn the Real Estate Agents Bill if it got into government. He even hinted the institute was funding part of National’s election campaign.

He made these claims without any proof, besides the hearsay claim of an anonymous real estate agent-turned-informer, who claimed he’d heard institute president Murray Cleland tell a regional branch meeting in Palmerston North about it.

Hmmn, is that the same anonymous person who told Trevor Mallard about the anonymous American bagman?

And of course National MPs have met with the institute – as have Labour MPs, and indeed MPs from all parties. It’s called lobbying. What Cosgrove is trying to say, however, is that meetings with the Government are fine, but meetings with newspaper executives or the National Party are immediately suspicious.

Having done some lobbying myself (for InternetNZ mainly) one often meets with MPs on select committees outside the formal meetings. It is totally standard practice, and usually invaluable to increasing understanding of the issues. And normally you get a sympathetic hearing but no  guarantees, as parties need to undertake their own discussions at Caucus level on how they will ultimately vote.

One of the reasons for Cosgrove’s anger could be the fact that his bill is losing support. NZ First has indicated it has problems with it, National says it won’t vote for it, and neither will United Future or Act.

But he may be the victim of his own moderate success as a politician, too. The tough-guy routine works OK for a while, but at some point change needs to be effected by getting alongside your enemies, not trying to run them out of town all the time.

Cosgrove could probably have kept both National and NZ First onside with a little attitude change on his part, but he doesn’t appear to have cottoned on to this yet. If he wants to become more than just an attack politician, Cosgrove needs some lessons in diplomacy.

I think Clayton would be wise to listen to Mr Espiner. It would be a shame if some needed reforms do not happen, because of the way he manages the Bill.

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